The past week was the week of remembrance for the 6 million Jews who were murdered during Ha' Shoah/Holocaust. I went to synagogue, which I rarely do, because the guest speaker was David Faber. Last year I read his book, Because of Romek, and I wanted to hear him speak.
The day before I ironed. I never iron. I carefully ironed my clothes, and my children's clothes in a sort of private homage to the man we would meet tomorrow, who had lived through so much, whose people had been so severely wronged by the rest of the world. The man who endured unimaginable horrors and lived to tell the rest of us about it. It was silly I know, to iron, I'm sure he didn't notice, but I didn't know what else to do.
He's a short little man, his movements careful and sparse, he moved with the care of most elderly people, and something more besides. His hands shook with the effort of raising them above his head to show us the pictures of his family whom he watched die, or the shook with emotion, it is hard to tell. He told us quite simply of being a boy when the Nazis came to Poland, of running and hiding and running and hiding over and over again. He told us of the dreadful day when the SS troopers burst in on them and shot his five sisters and his mother while he hid under the couch. He told of staying in that little room with their bodies for two days, not knowing what to do until the smell became unbearable and he bid his mother goodbye. He told of being forced to watch as people were gassed at Auschwitz, of finding a little baby girl among the dead bodies who was still alive because her mother has been nursing her as the room filled with gas and she hadn't breathed it in. He tells of a guard taking the baby from him and throwing her into an oven, and of Eichmann torturing him for trying to save her. He tells of Colonol Eichmann, the man Hilter put in charge of the "final solution" rejoicing as he saw the people dying and exclaiming how beautiful it was. He told of watching thousands of people burned alive, of never forgetting the sound of their screaming.
It was incredibly difficult to listen to, impossible to turn away from, and I found myself wondering why I was trying not to cry. I should be crying, we should all be crying, grieving over the existence of such pure evil, over the cruelty that mankind is capable of.
He brought up something that I had never thought of before. When the Nazis invaded Poland they immediately began rounding up and executing every Jew, in every city. How did they know where they were, how did they find all of them so quickly? The Polish people told them how to find them, that's how. Neighbors betrayed neighbors, people who shopped at the same markets sold others to their death. Hate was the vehicle by which the Jews were slaughtered, hate wrote the blood guilt on almost every head in every neighborhood in Europe. Canada and the US turned away boatloads of people trying to escape persecution in Germany, the world did not care or want to know, they let suspicion and hate to make them complicit to mass genocide.
I'm afraid that it's not all that different now. What did the world do when Rwanda was torn apart by hate, or Liberia, or Bosnia? What do many Americans do now when they see a middle eastern person. Fear and hate are still very much part of the social climate today, what have we learned?
He also pointed out how that hate was fostered for 2000 years by a Christian church who somehow misread their Bibles and thought they had license to hate Jews. A church who committed atrocities toward many others as well. He was so gracious about it too. "Christianity is a beautiful religion" he said, "but Jesus was a Jew, he wasn't a Christian. Christianity wouldn't exist if Judaism hadn't existed first." He's right. That is one of the reasons I am teaching my children about Judaism, about Jesus the Jew, not mainstream Christianity, except how it fits into it's original context.
Where am I going with this? I can't decide. It's an important story, it's one that we forget at our peril. In the past I would be cast back into despair, overwhelmed by so much evil, unable to live with hope knowing how fragile life is in the face of determined people fueled by hate and fear. I would question G-d. How could He let this happen, how could he possibly think human freedom is worth this much pain and suffering. I would think around the beaten circle I always find myself in, questioning, struggling, pushing to find a point, a reason to go on, to not just end it all now because it's all so pointless. After David spoke the rabbi said only a few words, but they were well chosen. He said that rather than cause us to question G-d, this kind of thing should make us question man instead. Personally I took it a step further because I know myself, and I know that it is possible for me to choose hate and to nurture it and allow it to grow, we all have that ability if we give in to it to blame and fear. I have suddenly realized that the only option for me if I am to go on living in hope is to choose to fight against the things that cause me to despair. I can either give in, or I can actively oppose it.
I have spent so long wondering if there is a point this cycle of life, birth, death, birth, death, raising my children to raise their children to raise their children. Some times it seems pointless. Edmund Burke said, quite famously, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." In a way, perhaps quite microscopic, I can find a point to all of this if I will actively fight evil in all of the forms that it shows up at my doorstep, including hopelessness. And I can teach my children to fight evil instead of perpetrating it. I can actively practise goodness and teach them to do the same. Mir said something to this point last week after the Virginia Tech shootings. Perhaps this life really is a struggle of good versus evil, though it doesn't usually look like it does in the story books. But I do know that I'm finished with being a spectator helplessly wringing my hands. I've chosen sides, and I will no longer do nothing.